Sunday, January 12, 2020

John 1.29-42: Which Is Translated...

John had to interpret who Jesus was: there is the lamb of God (John 1:29), this is the Son of God (1:33). He needed the people to understand that Jesus ranked ahead of him (1:30), that the Spirit had rested on Jesus (1:32), that Jesus was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:33). Had he not told the people, they would never have imagined Jesus could be anything more than Mary and Joseph's son. He had to help make people understand

The gospel writer also knew that sometimes you have to help people understand. So the writer included translations for words that people might not understand: Rabbi (which translated means Teacher) in verse 38, Messiah (which is translated Anointed) in verse 41, Cephas (which is translated Peter) in verse 42.

Which is translated...

As the Holy Spirit knew on Pentecost, when people hear things in their own language, they understand them better. Not everyone in Jerusalem understood the accent of Gallilean fishermen. Greek speakers may not have known Aramaic or Hebrew, so things were translated in the text. And we need to hear in our own language, so the original scriptural texts will be further translated: Cephas which is translated Peter...which means rock. And now English speakers get it. You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. Introducing ideas in multiple languages helps more people understand. New people are introduced to the ideas, and those who understand multiple languages may have their understanding broadened.

Kehinde Wiley translates famous historical paintings into contemporary language. New people are introduced to these classics, and those who know the classics are invited to ask new questions about them. Below, Wiley translates Jacques Louis David's "Napoleon Crossing the Alps." The older painting is about power and leadership, about dynamism and masculinity, which is translated....

(Left) Jacques Louis David. Napoleon Crossing the Alps. 1801. Chateau de Malmaison.
(Right) Kehinde Wiley. Napoleon Leading the Army Across the Alps. 2005. 
Sometimes, though, you come to understand that the "original" is actually a translation. David's painting shows Napoleon pointing to the top of the Alps as the Army crosses the Saint- Bernard Pass. Around him, his cloak and his horse's mane and tail are whipped by the wind. At the feet of his rearing horse are three stones with names carved in them: Karolus Magnus (Charlemagne), Hannibal and Bonaparte. Bonaparte's name is highest on the path and carved in larger, deeper letters. There is no doubt that David's work is designed to portray power, leadership, dynamism and masculinity. The fact that Napoleon crossed the Alps not at the head of his troops but several days after them...and riding a mule...need not be discussed.

For additional thoughts on John 1:29-42, click here.

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